Japanese space agency scientists said they plan to bring soil samples from Mars ahead of the United States (NASA) and China (CNSA), which started Mars missions last year, in hopes of finding clues to the planet's origin and traces of possible life. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, plans to launch an explorer in 2024 to land on Phobos, a Martian moon, to collect 10 grams of soil and bring it to Earth in 2029. The rapid return trip is expected to put Japan ahead of the United States and China in bringing back samples from the Martian region despite starting later, project manager Yasuhiro Kawakatsu said in an online news conference.
NASA's Perseverance rover has landed in a Mars crater where it is to collect 31 samples that are to be returned to Earth with help from the European Space Agency as early as 2031. China in May became the second country to land and operate a spacecraft on Mars and plans to bring back samples around 2030.
JAXA scientists believe about 0.1 per cent of the surface soil on Phobos came from Mars, and 10 grams could contain about 30 granules, depending on the consistency of the soil, Kawakatsu said. Tomohiro Usui, professor at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, said soil on Phobos is likely to be a mixture of material from the moon itself and material from Mars that was spread by sandstorms. Collecting samples from multiple locations on Phobos could provide a greater chance of obtaining possible traces of life from Mars than obtaining soil from a single location on Mars, he said.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)